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Eyes Wide Open: The Real Situation in New York

By       Message Wanda Warren Berry     Permalink
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           This plan ignores the election management problems involved in deploying not only enough lever machines, but the Image-Cast ballot marker. To do this in 2008 will require much effort; it seems hardly feasible as a long term plan. Additional stress for counties would be caused by continuing the need to store the levers as well as the new equipment.

            In addition, a closer look at NY’s Election Reform and Modernization Act (2005) is required to determine whether such a plan would violate the rule that no more than two voting systems be deployed in any polling place. Most county Boards of Elections would need to manage (1) the lever machines, (2) the ballot marker/scanner Image Cast, and (3) paper ballots for absentee, military, emergency, and provisional use.

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4. The articles ignore limitations of lever machines: While some of the criticisms of levers are acknowledged, scant weight is given to not only their failure to comply with ruling interpretations of HAVA, but to additional problems many voters find with them.

· Not only do voters with disabilities object to using a completely separate system, many voters know that levers have a history of stalling as the counters role over to the next 100. They have learned to want a record of their individual votes, which the EAC says HAVA requires and which the lever machines cannot provide. Often voters realize only after pulling the large levers to register their votes that they missed a race. If they had been marking a paper ballot in a privacy booth, they would have taken time to check the ballot and even get a new ballot if needed. In a primary, the voter sometimes finds only after having entered the machine and having started to vote that it is set for the wrong party. With paper, a wrong ballot can be perceived immediately and can be returned, voided if necessary, as the voter receives the right one. In addition, write-ins are particularly difficult on lever machines and nearly impossible for those who are short or who have visual limitations.

· The authors present false information about lever machines, claiming, e.g., that “Our lever voting system does create a piece of paper that can be audited.”[8] Some of NY’s lever machines provide an imprint of the counters at the end of the election. Many do not. When available, the imprint is only of the totals. Current discussions of audits of elections assume the recounting of individual votes. There is no record of individual votes with a lever machine.

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· The 2007 Voluntary Guidelines from the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST) recommend a software-independent verification process. An analogous requirement for levers would be for some kind of independent verification system that would reveal any errors in the lever machine tabulation. None exists. New York’s Election Reform and Modernization Act requires that NY follow the EAC voluntary guidelines. If the NIST recommendation is incorporated in the EAC guidelines, as is usual, the requirement for independent verification might become mandatory.

· While one lever advocate acknowledges that “if the lever machine fails or is tampered with there’s no trace of how the voter voted,” she plays down this invisibility of the counting of the ballots in the lever machine in order to stress what she calls “the unseen calculation of the optical scanner.”[9] She does not explicate the efforts to establish careful pre-election testing of machines and post-election protection of ballots through New York’s bipartisan election administration.

5. The articles sponsor disparagement of the work of some officials and other election integrity activists: Some advocates of the retention of levers disparage the intention of New York’s careful certification requirements as well as its audit requirement, developed due to the hard work of citizen activists. They disparage the fact that NYVV and the NY League of Women Voters have argued that voter-marked paper ballots provide a fail-safe so that the voter’s intention can be checked through audits and recounts. Mockingly they presented this argument as saying, “…we know the optical scanners can be rigged without ever being detected, but we can hand-count some of the ballots to check against the computer results” and go on to say, “It’s true—we can do that, but we’re not.”[10]

This “we’re not” is unjustified. Steps toward effective security and audits are being taken. Both officials and concerned citizens are working hard to discover and to implement effective systems for protecting the chain of custody of ballots and for audits.

Conclusion: Eyes Wide Open and Ready to Work:

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New Yorkers for Verified Voting have shared from the beginning the concern about electronic voting machines that drives the current “retain the levers” movement. But we have learned that progress can be made through pragmatic action, through coalitions of good government groups, and through persistent effort. As a software engineer, our Executive Director was so concerned about electronic voting that he resigned from his professional position five years ago to volunteer to establish and lead NYVV. With eyes wide open, he has led us in the smart, step-by-step battle that Margaret Yonco-Haines has summarized on the Democratic Underground. With eyes wide open, we have kept direct recording electronic voting machines out of New York through a five year struggle.

With eyes wide open, we knew from the beginning that a system based on voter-marked paper ballots would need to be paired with precinct-based scanners, in order to allow voters feedback as each individual submitted her ballot to the scanner. The purpose also was to reduce the likelihood of accidental or malicious mis-programming infecting large systems. With eyes wide open, we knew that the scanners would need to be checked not only through pre-election testing but through post-election audits. We worked for and got adopted what were then the strongest certification testing rules and audit requirements in the country.

With eyes wide open, we now are insisting that counties not be allowed to implement untested and uncertified scanners. With eyes wide open, we now are working with experts on a strengthened audit policy. With eyes wide open, our members are working to strengthen provisions for trained election inspectors and for poll watchers. With eyes wide open, we hope to find time to research and reveal to the public the exorbitant charges the vendors are levying for their inadequate equipment. With eyes wide open, we are urging voters to insistently check their registration in the voter database.

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Eyes Wide Open: The Real Situation in New York